School Cafeteria Company Projects Deficit and Success

Chartwells representatives say the company is serving healthier food and winning over students but may not make a profit this year.

Representatives of Chartwells, the new dining service contracted to run the Farmington school cafeterias, presented the Board of Education with a progress report Monday night, saying that while the company is currently running a $149,000 deficit, they’re confident they will are winning over Farmington students.

Mike Edgar, district manager for Chartwells, gave a year-to-date overview of the company’s progress, bringing statistics of meals served this year versus last year, cost to produce each meal and a specific action plan for turning the district’s deficit into profit.

“Last year at this time, you served 94,000 meals, while this year is slightly above that, with students purchasing the healthier USDA meals,” Edgar said.

Board members and Chartwells representatives noted that stringent U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines slashing salt, sugar and fats from student diets, and limiting grain and protein portions, was certainly a factor in sales. Edgar said that in districts where Chartwells was already well established, the company was seeing reductions in sales as students balked at the healthier choices and loss of favorites.

Still, he said, Farmington students seemed to be accepting Chartwells’ healthier meals at a greater rate than those established districts. At Farmington High School, cafeteria participation increased by 6.4 percent, with a slight increase at Irving A Robbins, a slight decrease at West Woods Upper Elementary and the other elementary schools struggling the most.

Older students have bought into the Chartwells meals, which include much more fresh foods, more readily than the younger students, who in many cases are still looking for the familiar chicken nuggets and pizza of previous years.

The company has waged a campaign to win students over, and parents, too. At the beginning of the year the Chartwells bunny visited younger students and messages about health and nutrition plastered cafeterias and lunch bags.

At the high school, Chartwells chefs do demonstrations of food preparation – called action stations – where students can watch fresh pasta dishes, for example, being prepared. On a special open house day, local farmers who provide produce to Chartwells, visited the cafeterias and gave away fresh fruit.

But the move away from prepared foods has also contributed to the current deficit, Edgar said. 

When Chartwells took over this summer, many of the women who had worked in the Farmington cafeterias agreed to sign on with the new company and were provided training sessions. The company purchased new equipment more suited to the Chartwells recipes and style of food preparation, and also had to provide extra training days for the Farmington employees, Edgar said.

“The folks struggled a little bit early on who we took on from Farmington Public Schools,” explained Tim Malley, director of dining services in Farmington. “Our recipes are more in-depth, use more fresh products and require more knife work, for instance, so we took more time with training… It took more than the opening two days of training… so they were comfortable preparing the new recipes and getting up to speed with the way we do business.”

Employees who made the switch from the Farmington schools-run cafeterias to Chartwells agreed that the company requires much more food preparation versus the prepared food they were serving before. A few have left in the few months since Chartwells took over and others, on condition of anonymity have said they’re not happy with all the changes. One told Patch that in the transition many employees took a significant pay cut.

In addition, Edgar said the company missed out on some revenue by not opening the high school snack bar for several weeks after the start of school.

Though the current deficit is $149,000, Edgar projects that number will fall to $17,000 by year's end. Still, the projected deficit is shrinking and the healthier food is being served. 

“Two years ago, we were just under $73,000 [in deficit for the cafeteria fund], last year $92,000. So when we made this change, it was for a couple reasons – a financial one but also as Mike talked about, the quality of food,” said Mike Ryan, district business administrator.

“I don’t think the $17,000 [projected end-of-year deficit] will be there at the end of the year because your action plan is great but $17,000 is still better than last year,” Board of Education Chairman Mary Grace Reed said. And contractually, she said, Chartwells – not the school district – is responsible for the first $50,000 in debt.

Edgar agreed.

“It is a process. We need to understand the community and learn everything we can do… our commitment is to better these numbers by the end of the year,” he said.

Bob December 12, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Seems that the Farmington School System is making a lot of bad choices. I am glad my kids are out.
Jeff December 13, 2012 at 03:10 AM
My kids love the new lunches. My wife, a doctor, used to make me limit the frequency that the kids bought lunch to twice a week. No longer. The kids, 1st & 4th grade, buy lunch almost every day and they prefer it that way.
Paul Chotkowski December 13, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Typical anonymous Progressive / Socialist post with a twist! "I want my fruit, salad & dressing, I want it now, & I expect someone else to pay for it!" When Comrade Marx said "to each according to her need" he didn't say anything about charging a "fee". Then again he didn't say anything about "wants" either. So stop already, pay the cost, and be happy that the selection is available. Or you can brown bag it and eat whatever you want - until the food police start investigating what you are eating under the guise that it negatively affects other who sit at the same lunch table. If you are going to brown bag it you better do it quick before bringing "better" food to school becomes UNFAIR and actionable [Trial Lawyers are you listening]? After all eating below par food could stigmatize those who must eat the cafeteria food. It could lead to a life of camping out with OSW, working for the Glorious Revolution and universal food justice! Your free lunch, salad, dressing and up to par fruit days are over. The country, the state, and apparently the Cafeteria are all broke so stop grousing, pay up or scale back your expectations [TC take note of that last part]. Ms. Lisa did you truly think that the USDA unfunded mandates would not cost you more? I bet you also think that Obama Care will "reduce costs" and "improve health care" but I digress? It is mind boggling that people still think that there is such a thing as a free lunch [even sans fruit]! Talk about Kool Aid Comrade Epicure.
Ann Randolph December 13, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Did anyone really think that Chartwells could provide this service for less money? They should be responsible for ANY deficit, not just the first $50,000.
Dave Testa March 12, 2013 at 03:40 PM
I agree with Daisy, All Chartwell did was eliminate benifits from it's employees.Why is it that the cafeteria needs to turn a profit or break even? It should be part of the budget.


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